The Tyranny of Positivity

Negative Nellies – that’s the term people use to describe those embroiled in negative emotion. But is that fair? Are we judging people before we know what life is like for them? For example, my husband is very sick. Lately he has been battling a cough that makes it next to impossible for him to sleep at night, and consequently, me as well. He has a slew of health issues and is on several medications, which makes taking something for the cough problematic. Medications can interact with one another to make a bad situation even worse. It’s hard not to be negative when you’re sick and not getting the rest you need to recuperate.

And for me, lack of sleep combined with worry has made battling my negative demons even more of a challenge. Sometimes the societal demands to be positive when just putting one foot in front of another seems like a herculean task. Speaking for myself, it feels cruel. I am tired! So, can we cut one another a break? We don’t know what is going on in the lives of others. Can we set aside the judge’s robes and the demand for positivity?

Yes, positive emotions are easier to live with and a positive attitude is preferable to a negative one. Yet, we are all only human. Sometimes life is hard. Placing demands on people to be positive when we don’t know their situation or what issues they may be struggling with, is, frankly, inhumane in my view. Kindness and compassion will go a lot further to help people become more positive than the judgment and labeling of them as ‘negative nellies’.

Let’s be a little more gentle with ourselves, and with one another.

Quality of Life

Angel holding bunny

I write this to honour a young man I once had the privilege of working with. He was confined to a wheelchair and spent his days alternately in his chair or laying in bed. He could not see well as he was partially blind. He also could not speak much and only uttered two words that made sense: “mama” and “No”. Mostly he uttered guttural sounds, but oh my, he could laugh. I remember describing him to friends of ours and the first thing they asked was, “what kind of quality of life is that?” And they felt sorry for him. Yet it was this young man who taught me much about what ‘quality of life’ really means.

No, he couldn’t walk and his limitations were severe and many. He could move his legs and one arm, and he could turn his head to a limited degree. He also had a feeding tube in his stomach through which he was given nourishment – liquid ‘meals’. I had been asked if I would come work with him as his usual care giver was going off on leave. I was scared. I didn’t think I could do it. I had never done this sort of work before and didn’t think it was a good fit, but his mother encouraged me and, in the end, I agreed to try. It has been a blessing that has had reverberations in my life.

Here is what J. taught me: He taught me there are many ways to communicate without ever speaking a word. He taught me patience. He taught me grace, endurance, forgiveness, and so much more. He taught me what real love looks like.

I would arrive in the early morning and he would be laying awake waiting for me. I would bend over and whisper good morning in his ear. He’d smile. He always smiled.

After the morning routine of bathing, dressing, and breakfast was done I would sit beside his bed and read stories to him. Sometimes I sang songs, he seemed to enjoy that. He also enjoyed games I made up as we exercised his limbs so the muscles would not atrophy. He laughed a lot. It was gratifying to hear him laugh, and when he would turn his head at the sound of my voice and smile his beautiful smile.

He loved it when his little brother, a toddler at the time, was placed on his lap. The little guy was very curious about this big brother and would often hug him and caress his face. J loved that. At other times though, he would slap J or inadvertently hurt him in some way. J would cry, deeply hurt by his little brother’s actions. But he never had the smallest inclination to strike back – he had no desire for revenge. He simply expressed his hurt and pain through tears. J never seemed to get angry – it was just not part of his makeup or personality. Thankfully these occasions were few and far between.

I worked with J for a little over a month, but the time spent with him was overall a joyous experience. He was endlessly patient with my fumbling in the early days and I came to look forward to my time with him. It was a time of great learning, on my part. And it was a time filled with grace, peace, and goodwill. J has many blessings to share with the world, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the benedictions he imparted.



Paper Cuts and Flat tires

Some days are just like that. I reach into a drawer for a bit of scrap paper and slice my thumb on said item. It’s very busy. People are lined up. I am alone on the desk; my co-worker is on break. I grab a Kleenex and wrap it around the wound, trying to staunch the flow while simultaneously checking out books for a patron, making sure I don’t bleed on them (the books, not the patron). Paper cuts hurt! Also, they bleed a lot. At any rate I survive and the books remained bloodless. Score! I win!

This morning we wake up happy and joyful. Everything is going smoothly. All is well. My husband is going to drive our daughter to work. Then it all goes to pot for a few minutes when we discover we have a flat and the tools to change the tire are at our son’s place across town. Happily, our friend and neighbour is not working today and offers to drive daughter to work. Crisis averted.

Stress can be such a pain in the butt. But, you know, most things we stress over are so small and inconsequential. I mean, we live in a beautiful home, in a beautiful city, in a country where we are free – truly free. No wars or starvation to worry about. We don’t have to fear for our lives. We have food, clothing, shelter and much to be thankful for. Stress really is all about perspective, isn’t it?

As we go about the rest of our day and arrange to get the tire fixed I hope we remember to count our blessings and to let little frustrations go. Some stressors really aren’t that important, especially paper cuts and flat tires!

A shout out in gratitude

“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

A shout out to all the writers, photographers, poets, and artists of every stripe – I just want to thank you. I want to thank you for expanding my horizons; for making me think; for helping me dream. For all the times I have smiled, laughed, or cried, I thank you. For your camaraderie and support; for your friendship across the miles. For granting me a small peek into your lives. Thank you for your generous sharing and for your courage to do so. For helping me see places I may never get to visit, except through your eyes. I thank you for your humour that brightens my days. I thank you for your wisdom and compassion. I thank you for exposing me to new ideas and allowing me new insights into life. And most of all I thank you for affirming for me once again that humanity is wonderful and good. I am so grateful for the miracle of each and every one of you. Thank you!

The Ripple Effect

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop

I believe in the ripple effect. Sometimes we meet people who are angry and belligerent, but as a woman I know said, “don’t take it personally, we don’t know what is going on in that person’s life, what challenges they face or what wounds they carry”. I think that is excellent advice.

To respond without anger, without judgement is often not easy, but it is always the better choice Responding, or reacting to anger with more anger only escalates the situation. However, it can be difficult. After all we are all only human and each carrying our own baggage, so to speak. It’s not easy to unpack the bag; to rid ourselves of recriminations, desire for vengeance, etc. If we can respond with calmness we often see a much better result.

With that said, I don’t think we should lay down and allow people to walk all over us – we don’t have to be a doormat. It’s a fine line at times, this balancing act between self-care and care for others. But I do believe in the ripple effect – the random acts of kindness; the acts of compassion and mercy. Acts of kindness make me feel good and I believe makes the other person feel good as well. Perhaps they will ‘pay it forward’ and be kind to the next person they interact with.

Conversely to act in anger, to speak harmful words, also have a ripple effect causing us to feel awful and the other person as well. I am only human. I make mistakes, but I hope I have learned enough to not repeat them. I hope I will sow more seeds of compassion than seeds of wrath in my lifetime. We cannot change the world, but we can change what we do in our own small corner of it.

“A tree is known by its fruit, a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost, he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” – Saint Basil





Too Much Stuff


So we are moving again. I had hoped not to have to face that onerous chore for several years. Yet, it is what it is. We have only lived here for one year and it is amazing to me how much stuff   we have acquired in that short time. I have lost count of the number of bags of clothes and things we have rid ourselves of. But, that is a good thing. I am sure other people can make use of items that clogged my closets and cluttered my life. It is rather freeing to let it all go. Why do we hang on to stuff for so long? Why do we buy so much in the first place? Our consumer life styles clog the landfill and create chaos for us and a nightmare for future generations. We hoard and we hoard – to what purpose? I have been trying to simplify my life for many years now. Not least of all due to the frequent moves. I should be grateful, but I have to admit that this gypsy lifestyle is growing old – fast! And the pile of boxes and totes make me feel like I am living in a warehouse. I long for the day I can finally put down roots and never have to face another move. Alas, I fear that day will not come until I go on my final journey. Still, I thank God for the many blessings of abundance, even overflowing closets of stuff to share.

The blessings of friendship

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing….not healing, not curing…that is a friend who cares.” Henri Nouwen

Refecting on life - photo by Anastacia Hopkins

I once read somewhere that ‘some people make life better just by being in it’ – that resonated with me.  I am blessed to have many such people in my life, but I am thinking of two friends in particular who have been loyal, caring, supportive and kind throughout the past several years; And the past two in particular. Friends may come and friends may go, but some become like family – people who have your back when you’re up against a wall. I am so grateful, so very, very grateful for these wonderful, warm, and caring friends. Naturally they seem to have no idea how special they are. The truly humble people never do, do they?  And the thing is they have so much stress going on in their own lives, yet are able to reach inside themselves to provide the support I need when I need it. Other times it is the shared laughter and pure joy in living that they abundantly share. The gift of time; the gift of self – that’s what it’s all about, right?  I am grateful. I am grateful for friendship; for people who are willing to sacrifice for others; for people who give me the strength to keep going – no matter what their own circumstances. God bless them all!

On death and dying

Despite all the worry and despite all the pain my mind returns to my little brother – taken too soon. He and my husband were pretty good buddies. They shared a lot, including open heart surgery within months of one another. He called a lot after Randy’s operation. And after his own a few months later he and Randy would share “war stories” of the after effects through many phone calls. It was an experience that seemed to strengthen the bond they already shared. In the past few weeks I was pained at the idea of my life partner leaving me forever. I dreamed of Chris and wondered if he would be there to greet his buddy once again.

Over the past years I have had to deal with one crisis after another as my husband’s health failed. He will never again be “healthy” as most of us think of it. There has simply been too much damage done to his heart and kidneys due to diabetes. And once again he is in crisis. Once again I am preparing myself for the inevitable. Having said that, I also know he could live another 5, 10, or even 20 years, despite the present situation.  There are, of course, a lot of variables.

My husband is the consummate clown. He loves to make me laugh – he loves making anybody laugh. It hurts to see him worn out and weary.  It hurts to think of life without him by my side.

Yet death comes to each of us – there is no escaping that fact.  So I will hold the precious memories of our life together close to my heart while anticipating the memories we will continue to make as long as life goes on. Death is part of life. And life, as hard as it seems sometimes, is a precious, precious thing.

To speak or not to speak

My mind is reeling with the words of the pathologist reverberating in my head while images of Chris in that casket flash on and off like some demented disco ball. Many people do not want to talk about it. That’s okay – they are dealing with the aftermath in the best way they can.  Personally, I need to talk. I need to let it out – but where? Grieving is a highly personal thing. So if you’re following this blog you are forewarned. I am going to talk! At the same time I am not a fully open book. Evidence of this blog aside, I am a private person. I don’t particularly want to “put it all out there” but I need to release these demons that hound me. I need to start getting ready for work and I do not want to carry this into my day. To speak or not to speak, that is the question. At the moment writing about my dilemma is helping, but time grows short. I guess I will have to leave it for a better time.

Remembrance Day – remembering my grandfathers and the men who served

in-defence-of-the-city-back-in-the-day I remember when neighbours would visit when I was a child, inevitably conversation would turn to reminiscing about the wars. I remember sitting enthralled as I listened to these war stories – until the conversation took gruesome turns and my mother would shoo me outside to play. I am grateful for those stories. They gave a human face to the horror of war, and brought home the sacrifices made.

I never knew my paternal grandfather, or my father’s brothers who served in the Second World War. But my Dad would tell stories of his father, the artisan and carpenter. I remember my Dad’s eyes filling with pride as he described the things his father made, even intricate items like a grandfather clock. Apparently he was very talented. He was wounded by shrapnel during the First World War and would suffer from pieces the surgeons were unable to remove for the rest of his life.

My Dad was the youngest of his family. He was a twin, but sadly his twin sister died of tuberculosis when she was twenty-eight. So I never knew her either. His eldest sister became a regular correspondent with me. She lived many miles away in Vermont and I didn’t get to meet her until I was an adult, but it was through the exchange of letters that I formed a relationship with her. She loved to write and to receive letters, as did I. I have kept many of her letters, hoping one day to weave a story from her descriptions of growing up in Newfoundland in the 1930s until she moved to Boston when she was a teenager.  They are a treasure and a window into the past. Through them I got to know my grandfather a little better. She describes a man who was very loving and kind. He had a great love for animals and for nature. Sadly he was changed by his experiences overseas and returned a bitter, impatient man and could often be cruel. It hurts my heart to think about what horrors he witnessed. He served in the army and I have no doubt he would have been diagnosed with PTSD today.

My maternal grandfather had suffered many strokes and his speech was difficult for a child to understand. But he was unfailingly patient, kind, and very gentle. He lied about his age in order to join the Royal British Navy and went to war at fourteen years of age. Later he would serve in the navy again during the Second World War. The wars never changed his personality – for all of his life he was the consummate story teller, entertaining family members, neighbours, and friends alike. I remember him sitting and chatting with my Dad. My father would often be laughing very hard with tears running down his face in response to the anecdotes and stories Granda was telling.

Today is Remembrance Day, and like every year my thoughts turn to these brave men who fought to ensure the freedoms we enjoy today. May they Rest in Peace.